It was another slow start for the Miners away from the Don Haskins Center, but this one didn't exactly end the way others before it have. After shooting a dismal 21% from the field in the first twenty minutes, the Miners did well to fight back, and take Colorado State down to the wire.
The Rams held a 29-19 advantage at the intermission, and continued to open up their lead in the early minutes of the second half. They led by as many as 13 at 36-23 with about 16 and a half minutes to play. But, despite the lead, the game was far from over.
The Miners outscored the Rams 30-16 over the next 12 minutes, and even took the lead at 53-52 on a Julian Washburn layup with 3:27 to play. But, two Wes Eikmeier free throws on Colorado State's next possession put the Rams back on top at 54-53 with 3:16 to go.
UTEP guard McKenzie Moore, who had a career night Wednesday, came right back and hit a runner in the lane to put the Miners back in the lead at 55-54 with 2:47 to go in the game. That however, would be the last time that UTEP would have the lead.
Colorado State's Colton Iverson responded with a nice hook shot on the next play, putting the Rams back on top for good. The Miners missed their next three shots, and found themselves down 5 with only 17 seconds to play.
Washburn was able to knock down a late three to cut the lead back to two, but CSU's Greg Smith drained two free throws with five seconds remaining to seal the win for the Rams. Final score, 62-58.
Julian Washburn led all scorers with 22 points and 5 rebounds in 40 minutes of action. McKenzie Moore finished with 15 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists, and Jacques Streeter finished with 12 points 4 rebounds, and 3 assists.
Colorado State was led by Greg Smith who finished with 18 points and 5 rebounds. Colton Iverson finished with 17 points and 6 rebounds, and Wes Eikmeier chipped in with 12 points and a couple of assists.
There's plenty to be taken away from this contest for the Miners. First, they did a great job of fighting back in that second half in an extremely tough place to play. Colorado State has now won 21 straight in that building so wins are hard to come by, for anyone.
Also, the Miners did a great job on the glass. Colorado State is a team that ranks 9th in the nation in rebounds a game with better than 42, and the Miners were able to keep their edge on the glass to 6 at 35-29. Of course, winning the rebounding battle would've been nice, but it was an overall great effort on the glass.
And, McKenzie Moore had somewhat of a coming out party. I was a bit skeptical about him playing such an expanded role, so quickly into his time as a Miner, but he certainly held his own tonight. Even while we know this isn't the best Moore can be, he still put up 15 points, and did a great job on the defensive end as well.
However, not all the things that Miners can take away from this contest are positive. In fact, there's one huge negative that must be straightened out as the Miners move forward. That is, they must figure out how to play better on the road. More specifically, they just have to come out and start faster.
The Miners managed only 19 points in that first half, knocking down on five field goals. Consider this; had they scored a reasonable 25-28 points in that first frame, we may be looking at a completely different outcome.
The problem is that these slow starts away from home have become the norm, and that's just something that can't happen once conference play starts. This team is getting better by the day, but they must figure out what is exactly is going wrong with these slow starts and correct it if they want to be a force in conference play.
The Miners will be off until next Wednesday, January 9th, when they open the Conference USA season at Tulane. The Green Wave are 11-3 on the season, are coming off a big win at Alabama, and are another team that are undefeated on their home floor. It will be another tough test for the Miners, we'll see if they're up to the challenge.